Growing in popularity, the Paleolithic diet, or Stone Age diet, has helped thousands of people return to a normal body weight. The diet focuses on mimicking the foods eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors before the beginning of agriculture. Modern paleo diet foods include fish, domesticated grass-fed meats, vegetables, fruit, and nuts, while avoiding refined sugars and grains. Although the diet does have its critics, recent dieting successes have pushed the paleo lifestyle closer towards popular acceptance.
Starting with the arrival of agriculture and animal domestication around 10,000 years ago, humans began to consume large quantities of dairy products, cereals, alcohol, beans, and salt. With the industrial revolution, large-scale mechanized food processing techniques led to the production of refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, refined grains, and fattier domestic meats, which now compose the majority of Western diets. These new food staples have altered a number of important nutritional aspects of the human diet, including glycemic load (absorption speed of carbs), macronutrient composition (protein vs. carbohydrates), and fatty acid composition (omega-6 to omega-3 ratio). In addition, the new foods have less essential vitamins and minerals, less fiber content, more sodium, and are more acidic. Paleo supporters assert that these dietary changes increase the prevalence of many diseases in Western societies, like obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
The differences between preagricultural and modern-day diets are quite revealing. The increased contribution of carbohydrates to the human diet (in the form of grains and sugars) has diluted the protein content. High-protein diets have been shown to help overweight and obese people lose weight. Also, carbohydrate restriction has been shown to effectively treat type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Paleolithic foods have lower energy density than the foods of today. The greater emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and lean meats decreases the calorie content but increases the micronutrient levels. Consequently, the vitamin and mineral content was much higher in the Paleolithic foods compared with the standard Western diet.
Hunter-gatherers relied on uncultivated, heavily fibrous fruit and vegetables. The fiber intake of Paleolithic humans is thought to have exceeded 100 g/day. Compare that with the 15 g/day in the United States today. Furthermore, the preagricultural foods exhibited much lower glycemic indices, which help keep hormones like insulin and ghrelin in balance. On top of that, Paleolithic foods contained much more potassium than sodium, often times greater than 15:1. The skewed ratio in the U.S. diet (on average, 1:1.5 potassium-to-sodium) adversely affects the cardiovascular system and contributes to hypertension and stroke. In addition to all that, the metabolism of sugars and grains in the modern-day diet increases the acidity of body fluid. The increased acidity contributes to osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass because calcium is excreted to buffer the low pH of these acidic foods.
The Paleolithic diet has performed admirably in helping people achieve a normal body weight. Moreover, the diet has numerous health advantages when compared to a modern Western diet. Whether it’s physical health or effective weight loss, the Paleolithic lifestyle can help you enjoy a better body.